‘What Not to Wear’ at GW

Luther W. Brady Gallery‘s latest exhibit features women sculptors inspired by clothing.

What Not to Wear
Visitors eye shoes sculptures by Joyce Zipperer at the opening of the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery's "What Not to Wear" exhibit.
April 21, 2014

By Julyssa Lopez

As an art student at the George Washington University, Laura Peery, M.F.A ’78, had been preparing for her final thesis show when she sculpted a pair of porcelain shoes, just for fun. She hadn’t considered making footwear-inspired sculpture a central part of her work, but the shoes caught the eye of one of her professors, who proclaimed: “This is what you should be doing.”

Ms. Peery graduated and began selling her porcelain shoes—and later porcelain handbags and hats—in shops and galleries in Georgetown. When Luther W. Brady Art Gallery Assistant Director Olivia Kohler-Maga began to curate GW’s most recent art exhibit, “What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors,” Director Lenore Miller reminded her of Ms. Peery’s shoes. They were a perfect fit.

“What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors” opened last Wednesday and exhibits the work of 10 female sculptors inspired by clothing and accessories. The exhibit includes pieces made from a variety of materials, such as marble, steel, vinyl and more. The artists explore the role of women in society and how clothes can be transformed into inventive forms.

Diane Simpson’s piece “Box Pleats,” for example, was inspired by skirt styles from the 1700s. Ms. Simpson explained she always draws from very specific sources and relates apparel to architecture.

“One thing that is apparent in all of my work is an interdependence between the structure of the piece as well as the form—everything works together. In ‘Box Pleats,’ the structure of the piece is also very much part of the detail and the design,” Ms. Simpson said.

Other pieces offer more literal translations of clothing. Barbara Segal’s “Black Swan” looks from every angle like a lingerie top sewn from lightweight fabric. But upon closer examination, a viewer can see it’s made from solid, polished black marble. Ms. Segal calls it her “rebellion piece.”

“You could look at it two ways: You could look at it in that the woman is subordinate to the male and is trying to seduce him, or you could look at it as a woman who wants to be the aggressor. I look at it the second way—it’s about feeling good about being woman,” she said. 

Ms. Segal, who is inspired by the sculptors of the Renaissance, said she made the piece in 2011—a period that, for her, was about learning to manipulate marble and emulate the folds and delicacy of fabric through the medium. At the opening on Wednesday, she peered at each piece in the show and said she was impressed with the diversity of the exhibit.

“Every woman artist is using her materials and her ideas in a different way—I think it’s very representative of a 360˚ viewpoint,” she said. “GW did a great job finding people and putting together the exhibit.”

The show marks Ms. Peery’s second show at GW—she was part of an alumni exhibit several years ago. Ms. Peery said she was most moved by how the Brady Gallery is embracing strong, female artists.

“There’s always talk that women are underrepresented in art and in general. The big shows were going to men and it took a lot for women to stand up and say, ‘This really isn’t right. You know there’s good work being done,’” she said.

Ms. Peery explained, represents the gallery’s broader goals and commitment to teaching.

“The Brady Gallery always does very educational shows where you really take something away,” she said. “You’re learning every time you walk through the door.”

"What Not to Wear" will be on view until June 27. The exhibit also includes the work of Isabelle de Borchgrave; Michelle Jaffé; Amalie Rothschild; Mandy Cano Villalobos, M.F.A. ’06; May Wilson; Susie B. Woods; and Joyce Zipperer.